Is literature in translation having a moment? Two of the most talked-about authors of the past few years have been Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard; bookstores across the country recently had midnight parties for the release of Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore; the National Book Foundation created a new prize this year for translated literature. Open Letters, which exclusively publishes books in translation, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and a number of other small presses with an emphasis on translation have started since the turn of the 21stcentury, including Archipelago, Deep Vellum, Europa, New Vessel, Restless, Transit, and Two Lines. Older independent presses such as Dalkey Archive, Interlink, and New Directions continue to focus on books in translation.
AmazonCrossing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing that was launched in 2010, is by far the largest publisher of fiction in translation. According to Chad Post, publisher of Open Letters, who keeps a database of every original book of fiction or poetry in translation since Jan. 1, 2008, AmazonCrossing published 55 books in these categories in 2017, while the next highest number came from Dalkey Archive with 30 books.
Still, the news is not all good. According to an article Post wrote for his Three Percentblog (named after the number generally cited for the percentage of books published in the U.S. that are translations), the number of translated works of fiction and poetry has been dropping for the past few years, with 540 in 2016, 495 in 2017, and 428 books in 2018 as of October. Post promises to write up his analysis of why the numbers have been dropping when he has time during an anticipated “December break, snowed in with a fifth of whiskey.”
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a great novel by an international writer, try Open Letters’ Fox by Dubravka Ugresic, which our review calls “brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny.”
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.